President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that his dinner meeting with Vladimir Putin earlier this month involved what might seem an anodyne topic: adoption.
That was the reason that Donald Trump Jr. originally gave for meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others in a meeting at Trump Tower in July 2016 — an explanation that fell apart when Trump Jr. released the emails setting up that meeting.
"So what's so bad about that?" you may think. "What sort of monster could possibly be opposed to Russian orphans finding loving homes in the US?"
The answer, it turns out, is Putin himself — a fact that Trump himself acknowledged in his Times interview.
So why did Putin block the Russian orphans from prospective parents in the US? Well, it has to do with US sanctions, a lawyer's death, and the kids that Moscow dragged into the drama.
The lawyer was Sergei Magnitsky, an auditor who was imprisoned on corruption charges in 2008 — but only after he alleged that powerful individuals in and near the Russian government had siphoned off millions from the state's coffers.
President Barack Obama signed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act into law in 2012, placing sanctions on individuals thought to be connected with Magnitsky's death.
Putin and the Kremlin were, in a word, furious about this, and retaliated a few months later by signing a law that barred US citizens from adopting Russian children.
Since then, Moscow has used the orphans as leverage to try to get the US to repeal the Magnitsky Act entirely, both directly and indirectly.
So remember: When you hear people talking about "Russia" and "adoption," what they're really talking about are human rights-related sanctions that came about after a whistleblower died in prison.
Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Hayes Brown at email@example.com.
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